In Michael Haneke’s Caché, a family is terrorized by a series of videotapes left on their front porch. The tapes at first contain impersonal images – a two-hour video of their apartment shot from a distance – until the recordings become more personal. There is no score save for incidental music, there are no audio cues for some horrific or tense scenes. We are left to contemplate the stark images, and the relative silence heightens the fear and confusion. It is edited in such a way that we are not sure if what we see onscreen is footage from the tapes, or real life – until the couple rewinds the scene.
I first encountered Haneke when I saw the remake of his home invasion film, Funny Games, which starred Michael Pitt (I’m planning to watch the original). I can’t say I enjoyed that film; I can say I was affected by it, deeply so, as I am affected and disturbed by Caché. Haneke loves to disturb without the hysteria, and I admire that about him and his work.
Cut for more discussion and spoilers. (Please don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film; that said, do watch the film.)
Some people might hate Caché because it is set up as a whodunit, but we are never clearly told who did it. Theories abound.
I must say now that the last scene puzzled me, but I knew after the credits rolled that I missed something. Roger Ebert points it out in his review:
The last shot of the film, like many others, is taken from a camera that does not move. It regards events on the outside staircase of a building. There are a lot of people moving around. Closer to us than most of them is a figure with her back turned, placed just to the right of center; given basic rules of composition, this is where our eye will fall if all else in the shot is equal. Many viewers will not notice another element in the shot. Stop reading now if you plan to see the film, and save the review…
…and now observe that two people meet and talk on the upper left-hand side of the screen. They are two characters we recognize, and who should not know each other or have any way of meeting.
The theory now is that those two characters (Majid’s son and Pierrot) conspire to shoot the tapes and confront Georges with his guilt. It explains Pierrot’s disappearance and sudden surliness.
More theories here, including this intriguing one:
Nystrom and Keeble write that “the videotapes are not sent by any person in the ‘cinematic reality’ that the film takes place in, but are in fact placed by Haneke himself. The tapes then act as some sort of meta-cinematic device to instigate the intrigue and questions that follow.”
Remember in Funny Games, when one of the killers was shot, and the film rewound itself? Haneke plays with the idea that the filmmaker is a god. He taunts us with our wishes (“I hope these killers die”) and destroys us.
He does it again here.
“Antoine Doinel” (lovely name) gives some compelling evidence (which I checked – and hot damn Haneke!):
The question of who made/sent the tapes in Haneke’s provocative ‘thriller’ Caché has produced endless debate and conjecture the world over, the following is a working through of sorts, an interpretation of the film in regards to the infamous tapes.
Approximately 10 minutes into the film we see a night shot of George and Anne’s street and apartment, a car approaches from behind the camera filming the shot and causes a large shadow of the “hidden” camera to be revealed on the left hand side bush (this shadow goes unnoticed by many or is not identified by them as a camera shadow). The camera is obviously not “hidden,” or a ‘hand-held’ camcorder one might expect a ‘voyeur’ to be using, the shadows outline clearly reveals a fully equipped production camera on a tripod with matte-box, flags and follow focus etc. At first, one is inclined to be generous and forgive the filmmaker for such a production flaw (this is not that uncommon after all), however it is a very staged (controlled) and considered shot (as Haneke is renowned for) and this “mistake” would have been seen during the blocking out of the shot, so then, it has to be deliberate, that is, a purposely staged element, or clue for the viewer.
Haneke then blatantly makes sure we know it was not a “mistake” when he shows us the camera shadow again (approx 12:40 in), we see the footage being rewound and then stop exactly at the point the camera shadow appears and then it plays back, the camera shadow (along with the childish drawing the tape came wrapped in which we saw in the previous shot) triggers an intercut image of Majid as a young boy, who startled by a presence, looks up and stares directly at the camera (“us”, George), blood coming from his mouth which he ashamedly wipes away (this use of a mindscreen technique is unusual for Haneke, he is giving us access into George’s consciousness). The meaning of this internal image is clarified later as a selfish lie George told to his parents to get rid of Majid when he was a child, this lie is the cause of his repressed guilt. Symbolically it is George’s car headlights that cause the camera shadow to appear, to be revealed to the audioviewer as he parks his car, we see him walk past and enter his apartment.
This observable fact (camera shadow) dismisses any theories of a fictional character being responsible for filming and sending the tapes, which is clearly a ‘red herring’, a generic device that Haneke has used to mislead us, and this red herring has been taken in hook, line and sinker. Why? Haneke is taking advantage of (relying on) the fact that most audioviewers have been so conditioned by mainstream cinema and literature to expect to uncover the culprit in the last reel/pages. He is knowingly playing with the audioviewers expectation of cinematic endings (particularly in regards to the thriller/mystery genre) and subverting them. Herein lies the unresolved/unexplained beauty of Caché, we are denied this traditional revelation.
And there’s also this equally valid political reading:
Early in the film, Georges has an angry confrontation with a Black man on a bicycle; events in Algeria are mentioned. There is a lingering shot of a Black girl who is a guest at one of their dinner parties: she is laughing nervously, the gullible victim of a shaggy dog story. The implications are subtly but clear: France, like many other nations, has very carefully forgotten its colonial past, forgotten that active racist policies were in practice only last century, forgotten the vast pillage of African nations. Forgotten that the comfortable position of the privileged ruling middle class is one that is based on exclusion, discrimination, and, at heart, violence against the other, and that the perpetual fear of imagined reprisal gnaws the secretly guilty heart of those who live free of such injustice. What is hidden is not simply Georges’ guilty secret, but civilisation’s – a civilisation that not only exists through the exclusion of perceived barbarism, but that creates, nurtures, and defines that very barbarism: civilisation which would not exist without its significant, (in)visible other.